Coronavirus (Covid-19) and the NYC Immigrant Community
The Coronavirus is sweeping across the nation, but there are few places that are more affected than NYC, and for obvious reasons: the population density; the mobility and crowding of a subway boasting nearly 9 million weekday ridership; a nightlife that encourages millions of people to brush past each other; people and goods crossing international lines at one of several major ports: it is simply a city whose best qualities also make it an easy target for a virus.
From the original colonies to the heydays of Ellis Island to today, NYC is also the city most synonymous with immigration: we boast the highest number of immigrants of any city in the United States. Unfortunately for this large population, like most disasters, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) has had a disproportionate impact on the immigrant community.
A quick glimpse at the sort of work the immigrant community in NYC, especially the undocumented population in particular, engage in is the very portrait of difficulty in the current climate: restaurant workers, construction workers and drivers are popular industries. With restaurants and construction sites closed down and there being nothing like a bar open to grab a ride to, these industries are among the first and hardest hit by NYC’s shutdown.
Worsening the situation is the fact that undocumented immigrants have fewer public health insurance options. New York City has made changes to their healthcare system to better integrate its undocumented population, such as allowing pregnant women of any status to qualify for Medicaid. Coverage like this, however, is simply not offered to most of the undocumented population outside of emergency coverage.
With reliable estimates placing the undocumented community at around 1 million in NYC, this is a large portion of NYC experiencing the same crisis of New Yorkers in general, that is, being laid off with little warning. Help from the state for everyday residents of New York has been in high demand, and the additional stress actually caused NY’s unemployment insurance website to crash.
Unemployment insurance, however, is not offered to every worker that suddenly finds themselves without a job through no fault of their own: undocumented workers don’t have the work authorization that would allow them to collect unemployment insurance. This will further strain a community that already toils in a shadow economy known for taking advantage of it’s laborers.
Without the financial assistance that many in NYC need to rely upon in the midst of this crisis, this community will have to reduce spending more so than their neighbors in the same job predicament. This pulling back financially will further harm businesses already feeling the sting of what looks to be a serious looming recession as Americans everywhere are being discouraged from going out and spending money.
Then there are those who have been able to avoid the worst consequences of not having immigration status, but likely not for much longer: DACA recipients.
The Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program offered a temporary status for undocumented immigrants brought into the country as children with clean records. After the Trump Administration has rescinded the DACA program, it went up to a conservative Supreme Court with two Trump appointees for a decision: the prospects are pretty dim, and the court will be issuing a decision in or before June, so most likely long before the effects of COVID-19 are no longer felt.
For roughly 30,000 New Yorkers who have DACA, and with it their work authorization and access to additional healthcare options through New York State, their life circumstances will likely change drastically before this crisis is over. This is especially true in a hot zone like NYC. It would also increase the economic effects of the layoffs as that would be tens of thousands of workers potentially forced to immediately leave the work force and tax base, not able to return to their jobs and contribute to the economy.
On the New York Times’ ‘The Daily’ podcast, Governor Cuomo told New Yorkers to try to remain calm and be comforted by the fact that this is an emergency that we are facing as a state with so many affected. Because of this, he reasoned, New Yorkers can feel confident that help should arrive; that this isn’t merely a personal emergency that large institutions like a state might overlook. What, then, will the City and State of New York do to help their most vulnerable amidst a large number of diverse communities, all needing a hand?